Date/Time: Saturday, October 16 @ 7:00 pm MST
Location: Boise, Idaho (Albertsons Stadium)
Television: Fox Sports One
Betting Line: Boise State -4 – Over/Under 51
Head-to-Head: Boise State has a 6 – 3 lead in a series that has been streaky. The Broncos won the first two contests between the teams before Air Force won three in a row from 2014 – 2016. Boise State rebounded and has won the last four meetings. The Falcons are 1 – 4 on the Blue Turf.
Boise State is coming off a gigantic win on the road against the 10th ranked BYU Cougars. Perhaps even more encouraging than the victory was the way the Broncos played. Plagued all season with the inability to run the ball or stop the run, Boise State did both and played with a physicality that had been missing all season.
The Bronco’s schedule does not get easier as they enter week seven of the season. Boise State hosts an Air Force team that comes into Boise at 5 – 1 and statistically look like they will give the Broncos all they can handle on Saturday evening. The Falcons stats on offense so far this season are exactly what one would predict they would be:
Air Force Rushing Offense: 1st in the country
Air Force Passing Offense: 128th in the country
While the numbers look obvious, don’t let the passing stats lull you into a complete false sense of security because Air Force can throw the ball if a team ever shows it can slow down their smorgasbord of run schemes. From a statistical standpoint, things won’t be much easier for the Broncos when they are on offense either:
Air Force Rushing Defense: 17th in the country
Air Force Pass Defense: 24th in the country
On paper it looks like trouble for Boise State. Compared to Air Force, the stats aren’t kind to the Broncos. Boise State is 125th in the country running the ball and a respectable 29th in the pass game. On defense, the Broncos are 97th nationally against the run and just 76th in passing yards allowed. However, games aren’t played on paper.
The Broncos have played the significantly tougher schedule and you can somewhat throw out the Air Force rushing stats as an indicator for who wins on Saturday. This week’s burning questions focus not so much on stats or matchups, but the state of the Boise State Broncos.
THREE BURING QUESTIONS
Was the Run Game Against BYU a Mirage?
As has been repeated to the point of absurdity at this point, the Bronco run game has been a problem. If you are Boise State and are ranked 125th in the country at something, it is a huge concern.
However, the run game showed signs of life after a scheme change against Utah State and looked competent against Nevada if you omit yards lost on sacks and wild snaps. Then came BYU. The Boise State rushing offense passed the eye test against BYU, but if you dive into the numbers and the situation, there are still causes for concern.
For starters, the Broncos rushed for 140 yards, but it took them 45 carries (3.1 YPC) to get there. Additionally, BYU predominately dropped eight defenders in coverage and dared Boise State to beat them on the ground. The Broncos pulled it off, but just barely. Lastly, depth is getting awfully thin at running back for Boise State. Holani will be limited at best against Air Force and Habibi-Likio missed the second half of the BYU game. Burning question number one for BSU is if the running game is *REALLY* back on track.
Will Depth Issues Improve or Catch Up to Boise State on Saturday?
Injury and depth issues have been a continuing problem for the Broncos in 2021. Boise State was without both starting corners, a starting running back, two projected starters on the offensive line, two projected starters on the defensive line (and some backups), and a key wide receiver heading into the BYU game.
During the game they lost their third string corner, their starting safety (and leading tackler) to a targeting call, and their second string running back. Boise State overcame the injuries, but is it sustainable?
The answer to that question is bad news and potentially good news:
Bad News: Boise State announced that starting corner Markel Reed is out for the season. Additionally, Asia Kelemete medically retired, and Holomalia-Gonzalez, Curran, Obichere, and Igiehon were taken off of the two deep depth chart. That is a lot of talent that will be unavailable against Air Force.
(Potentially) Good News: All the offensive linemen who started against BYU came out unscathed. Additionally, there was no news on key players that missed action against BYU. LeBeauf, Holani, Habibi-Likio, CT Thomas, and Damon Cole potentially could be back this week. With a bye week following Saturday’s game, coaches have an interesting decision on starts or sits, but none of those players have been ruled out against the Falcons. Lastly, JL Skinner will be available to start against Air Force because his targeting penalty happened in the first half, barely.
Whether Boise State gets more of the bad news or more of the good news in the injury/depth department is a burning question heading into Saturday’s battle against the Falcons.
Was the Broncos Performance in Provo an Aberration or a Sign of Things to Come?
Of all the burning questions, this one is the most unanswerable. If you look at the Boise State games this season it might seem like they are all equal. The Broncos lost or won close games against good opponents and beat mediocre foes comfortably. That is fair, but Boise State looked different against BYU. They owned the line scrimmage, were the more physical team, and played a four-quarter game for the first time this season.
It appears like the Broncos turned a corner last weekend, but can we be sure? What if BYU QB Jaren Hall was more banged up then BYU led on? What if the defensive scheme was just poor against the Boise State offense? What if motivation is an issue for the 2021 Broncos and they were “up” for BYU? We will start to get verification one way or the other this Saturday.
On the one hand, the Falcons are a terrible squad to gauge a team by. They are extremely unorthodox on offense and preforming well or poorly against Air Force isn’t necessarily a referendum on the talent level of a defense. On the other hand, Boise State will play a stout defense and will get to show how much they’ve improved in preparation, physicality, and knowledge of the scheme on both offense and defense Saturday evening. The answer to this burning question will decide the game for Boise State.
The Broncos have a chance to turn the season around after falling into a 2 -3 hole to start the year. They passed a huge test last weekend to get the momentum rolling. They face an even more important test on Saturday. Boise State can not afford to drop many more Mountain West Conference games, and particularly hope to remain unscathed in the Mountain Division this week.
The Broncos continue to roll this week. The game will be close, it will be exciting, and it will be frustrating for Boise State fans. Ultimately, the home crowd, Andy Avalos’ familiarity with the Falcons, and a renewed energy with the Boise State staff, players, and fans will be enough to will the Broncos to victory Saturday night. Boise State 30 Air Force 24.